Steamed rice cakes with prawn and shallots

Steamed rice cakes with prawn and shallots

Michael Fountoulakis

More often than not, it is the women of Hue who keep imperial cuisine alive, passing the skills from one generation to the next. Take a woman like Mrs Ho, who only went into the hospitality business five years ago when she took over the Citadel Hotel on the fringe of Hue’s city centre. This energetic proprietor, for whom it is not unusual to spend an hour on the tennis court after an evening’s work in the kitchen, specialises in royal banquets. Putting her in-depth knowledge of Hue cuisine to good use, and assisted by her daughter, she produces elaborate ten-course feasts in an impossibly small kitchen. The king-size meal is served in the ‘Emperor’s Room’, next to the well-kept courtyard garden.

Mrs Hoa gave us the recipe for this dish, which is not only an essential part of any royal banquet, but an entire Hue laneway is dedicated to it. There is a row of restaurants that serve rice cakes with small variations, such as crushed mung beans or crispy pork skin. The pancakes are slightly chewy, the prawns or pork crisp, the wilted spring onions soft and the dipping sauce adds a sweet and salty taste—it’s a great balance of simple ingredients and flavours.


Quantity Ingredient
120g banh beo flour
300g raw prawns
3 red asian shallots, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 spring onions, sliced, green part only
Banh beo dipping sauce, to serve


  1. Put the banh beo flour in a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre and whisk in 125 ml cold water followed by 125 ml boiling water. Allow the batter to rest while you prepare the prawns.
  2. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Drop in the prawns, ensuring the water continues to simmer, and cook for 3–4 minutes, or just until the prawns change colour. Remove the prawns and reserve the poaching liquid for the dipping sauce. When the prawns are cool enough to handle, shell and devein them. Roughly cut the prawn meat, then crush it into small flat pieces using the side of a knife. Set the meat aside.
  3. Prepare 30 ml dipping bowls as moulds for the rice cakes by placing them in a hot steamer. After 1 minute, when the moulds are hot, remove them—taking care not to get steam burns. Immediately fill the moulds halfway with the rice batter and return to the steamer for 10 minutes.
  4. While the rice cakes are steaming, dry-fry the shallots, garlic and prawn pieces in a frying pan over low heat for 8–10 minutes, or until fragrant and crispy.
  5. Put the oil and spring onions in a small saucepan and heat gently. As soon as the onions wilt (about 1–2 minutes), remove from the heat.
  6. When the rice cakes are cooked and have turned opaque, remove from the steamer and arrange on a large platter. Sprinkle with the crispy prawn mixture and springonion oil and serve the dipping sauce on the side.
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